25th July, 2013

Robert Galbraith Didn’t Sell. Why is Anyone Surprised? | Keiran Rogers

This article was originally published on 25 July 2013 on the ‘Books + Publishing’ website. Join up for all the news and publishing discussions you need.


The Cuckoo’s Calling achieved mediocre sales before it was revealed bestselling author JK Rowling was the actual author

‘The Cuckoo’s Calling reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place’—Val McDermid

‘One of the most unique and compelling detectives I’ve come across in years’—Mark Billingham

‘Every time I put this book down, I looked forward to reading more. Galbraith writes at a gentle pace, the pages rich with description and with characters that leap out of them. I loved it. He is a major new talent’—Peter James

‘One of the best crime novels I have ever read’—Alex Gray

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling, could not have received better reviews. Yet before the secret broke, the Bookseller reported The Cuckoo’s Calling had sold a total of 449 copies through BookScan since its April release. Many people appeared very surprised that even without her name on the cover in 72-point font, JK Rowling’s quality of writing did not shine through and propel The Cuckoo’s Calling up the bestseller charts. I was not one of them. There are two obvious and major factors working against Mr Galbraith that completely explain the case of the missing book sales.

Firstly, an author who doesn’t exist can’t actively be involved in promoting their title. No radio or TV publicity, no attending writers’ festivals, no book signings, and certainly no bookshop tours to meet the people who directly handsell the books.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it is very hard to break in a debut author when you have a book market like that of the UK. Supermarkets aren’t taking punts on new talent, and the Book Depository certainly could not care less. With so few quality independent booksellers left in the UK there is simply no-one to actively engage with new talent and handsell quality writing. In Australia, across our independent and chain book channels, we have over 300 retail outlets that are still responsible for around half of all books sold in this country. Within these stores work many talented and dedicated staff, adept at handselling books and not daunted by debut authors.

Unsurprisingly, these stores like to support the publishers who support them. If publishers want their debut authors to succeed they need to: support the indies with a competitive base discount, not sell the same book on their own website at half the price, and not sell to Amazon or the Book Depository—or at least control their pricing.

If you need a better example look no further than the recent bestseller, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Sure, it won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s award for an unpublished manuscript, but the book succeeded because it is a good story, it was well published by Text (which has a great reputation among indies), and because the author Graeme Simsion has been everywhere meeting booksellers, signing stock and doing events.

Many Australian publishers talk about supporting our independent booksellers, but their actions suggest otherwise. As George R R Martin says, ‘words are wind’. Next time I launch a debut author I’ll run an event with Gleebooks, submit a review copy to Readings Monthly, talk to Dymocks George St about merchandising and take the author to meet the brilliant people at Shearer’s on Norton. We’ll ensure Fullers get reading copies, pitch to Riverbend for their Book of the Month, and ask Hill of Content if they can put it in their window. We’ll not forget Beaufort St Books just because they’re way out west, and we’ll give Dillons Norwood Bookstore a little extra discount to take a pile for out front.

Keiran Rogers is the new sales and marketing manager at Affirm Press. He is a former senior sales manager at Hinkler and sales director at Hardie Grant


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